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Sermon illustrations

Gifts

The Christmas Gift

A preaching professor at Harvard University tells the story of the year his 5-year-old son was working on an art project in his kindergarten class. It was made of plaster, resembled nothing in particular, but with some paint, sparkle and time in a kiln, it was ready to be wrapped as a gift. He wrapped it himself, and was beside himself with excitement. It would be a gift for his father, one three months in the making.

Early in December, when the child could hardly contain the secret, the last day of school finally came. All the parents arrived for the big Christmas play, and when the students left for home, they were finally allowed to take their ceramic presents home. The professor’s son secured his gift, ran toward his parents, tripped, and fell to the floor. The gift went airborne, and when it landed on the cafeteria floor, the shattering sound stopped all conversations. It was perfectly quiet for a moment, as all involved considered the magnitude of the loss. For a 5-year-old, there had never been a more expensive gift. He crumpled down on the floor next to his broken gift and just started crying.

Both parents rushed to their son, but the father was uncomfortable with the moment. People were watching. His son was crying. He patted the boy on the head and said, “Son, it’s OK – it doesn’t matter.” His wife glared at the great professor. “Oh yes, it matters,” she said to both of her men, “Oh yes, it does matter.” She cradled her son in her arms, rocked him back and forth, and cried with him.

In a few minutes, the crying ceased. “Now,” said the mother, “let’s go home and see what can be made with what’s left.” And so with mother’s magic and a glue gun, they put together from the broken pieces a multi-colored butterfly. Amazingly, the artwork after the tragedy was actually much more beautiful than what it had been in a pre-broken state.

At Christmas, the gift was finally given, and as long as he taught at Harvard, the professor kept the butterfly on his desk. It was a constant reminder that grief is real, and that loss hurts. It was also a reminder that from great loss, great beauty can eventually emerge.

Andy Cook

The Crucial Importance of Stewarding the Gift

The story is well known in the family: my grandparents had driven up from California the evening before. Stopping at a gas station along the Oregon border, they purchased some snacks, gas, and, as they often did, a lottery ticket. Thinking little of it, they stuffed the ticket in a pocket and continued journeying north. At their hotel that night, Grandpa stayed up to watch the news. The lottery numbers were to be announced. As the numbers were picked from a whirling globe of balls, the first number matched. And the second number. Then the third number.

At this point, he shakes Grandma awake. She wipes her eyes as they watch the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh numbers match. All seven numbers. Jaws dropped. Their minds could not ascertain what had transpired in just a few short seconds. Unimaginable. Unthinkable. How much did they win? What does this mean? The host announced the winning amount. That night, Grandma and Grandpa won $4.6 million. After a sleepless night, they drove to our home and placed the lottery ticket on our dining-room table.

The winnings helped our family in profound ways. Debts were paid. Vacations were had. Tuitions were covered. But the story has a dark side. A profound gift that created momentary bliss eventually led to bickering, infighting, and anger in the family. After nearly fifty years of marriage, Grandma and Grandpa’s marriage ended. Family members stopped talking. And a cold bitterness took over. I don’t retell this difficult story to shame a single soul. By the grace of God, healing and reconciliation has begun in our family. Yet the fact remains: no one knew how to steward such a gift.

 A. J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, Kindle Location 109-116.

Forgiveness is a Gift

God has given us all a message of reconciliation-that God, in Christ, has reconciled the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). The first place we are invited to practice this reconciliation is with one another. Forgiveness is a gift we receive and a gift we give. When we do, our communities become like our God-good and beautiful.

James Bryan Smith. The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love.

A Gift’s Value

A gift’s value is in the way it makes and reaffirms bonds between people. It’s an expression of a relationship. This isn’t to say that the cost of a gift doesn’t matter, but it certainly isn’t the most important thing about the gift. When I give you a gift, I’m not just giving you a gift; I’m giving you something of myself.

The silly gifts our kids give us when they’re young mean the world to us because we know that it’s not the thing itself that matters, and not even the thought that counts, but the affirmation, unspoken but fundamental to every gift, that you matter to the child, that the bond between us is intact and secure.

Taken from Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Copyright (c) 2017, p.92. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

 

The Owner of the Universe

The biblical theology of creation is a negation of theories of private” property and “public” property, our theories of individual ownership and collective or governmental ownership. The biblical view is that only God is the owner of the universe, because God created and fashioned it in the first place, and then loaned it to us to use properly. One of the practical implications of this theological outlook is that one must always ask questions about any use of material things, such as: Is this what God intended for us to do with this material? Will this use reflect good stewardship of God’s resources?

Will this or that use of property or money glorify God and edify people?…One of the saddest and least biblical corollaries of the theory of private property is the notion of charity-I once preached a sermon with the title “Charity is a Sin.” It certainly got the audience’s attention. The basic assumption behind the concept of charity is “what’s mine is mine, and if I share it with you, I am being charitable or generous as if sharing the wealth is optional. But alas for such ideas, the Bible is replete with commandments, not mere suggestions, about giving to others, taking care of the poor, sacrificing for others, and so on.

Ben Witherington III, Jesus & Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis, Brazos Press.

The Real Good of Every Gift

For the real good of every gift it is essential, first, that the giver be in the gift–as God always is, for He is love–and next, that the receiver know and receive the giver in the gift. Every gift of God is but a harbinger of His greatest and only sufficing gift–that of Himself. No gift unrecognized as coming from God is at its own best: therefore, many things that God would gladly give us must wait until we ask for them, that we may know whence they come. When in all gifts we find Him, then in Him we shall find all things.

George Macdonald, Second Series, The Word of Jesus on Prayer.

Thinking Biblically about Work and Ownership

In modern Western culture we place a high value on work, which is fine, but one of the philosophical assumptions that can come with such values is that we assume that we own what we earn or buy. From a biblical point of view this is extremely problematic. There isn’t any necessary correlation between hard work and ownership. Think, for example, of all the hard work that went into building the pyramids in Egypt. Most of the workers were slaves, and they had no delusions that because they built the pyramids they owned the pyramids. No, they believed that both the pyramids and they themselves belonged to Pharaoh!

In this sense (excepting of course that Pharaoh is not God), they had a more biblical worldview of work than most of us do. Our hard work may be well rewarded or not. It may produce prosperity or not. But until we see all that we receive, whether by earning it or receiving it without work, as a gift from God, a gift we should use knowing who the true owner of the gift is, we will not be thinking biblically about such matters.

Ben Witherington III, Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis, Brazos Press.

Turning a Gift into a Commodity

The other way to destroy the relational bonds of gift giving is to turn a gift into a commodity. Let’s say it’s my birthday. Ten friends come over to my house, and we eat a good meal, and they all bring a thoughtful gift—books I’ve wanted or food or what-have-you. So I open my presents and I’m very happy. At the end of the night, just before they leave the house, one friend asks, “What did you think? Good birthday celebration?”

I lean back, survey the gifts that are spread across the table, and say, “Yeah, pretty good. I figure I can get about 350 bucks for all this stuff on eBay after you leave.” If my friend believed I was serious—and more importantly, if I were serious—I would have harmed our relationship. In these gifts, my friends weren’t just giving me a book or a good record; they were giving me a little something of themselves. Whatever you want to call that extra something that is given with a gift, it’s destroyed when I exchange the gifts on the market. It disappears.

Taken from Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Copyright (c) 2017, p.93. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

 

What Do You Want for Christmas?

What do you want for Christmas this year? If you were to ask a typical little boy, he’d probably give you two words: video games. There’s a little boy I know named Brian. For weeks he bugged his parents about getting a watch for Christmas. Finally his dad told him, “Brian, if you mention that watch again, you’re not going to get it. Quit bugging us!” One night Brian’s parents asked him to lead in prayer before dinner. Brian said, “I’d like to quote a Scripture verse before I pray. Mark 13:37: ‘I say unto you what I have already told you before—watch . . .’”

Taken from Rick Warren: On This Holy Night Ed. Thomas Nelson, 2013, pp. 71-73.

Why Did God Make This World?

To ask our (not so) simple question in another way: Why did God make this world? Why did he make a world for his own glory in Christ and then fill it to the brim with pleasures—physical pleasures, sensible pleasures, emotional pleasures, and relational pleasures? Why did God make a world full of good friends, sizzling bacon, the laughter of children, West Texas sunsets, Dr. Pepper, college football, marital love, and the warmth of wool socks?

Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth, Crossway.

See also Illustrations on CharityGiving, Stewardship

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Gifts. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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